The World Water Forum brings together 25,000 experts this week in Istanbul, Turkey to discuss the water challenges facing a growing world. According to a compilation of case studies by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is sponsoring the event, one of the simplest and least expensive ways to have ample water for a growing human population is to protect watersheds. Not only do protected watersheds provide clean and easy-access water for many of the world’s largest cities, their protection also saves billions of dollars.
“Many of the world’s big cities have understood that protecting their catchment areas makes economic sense. Rather than chopping down the forests or draining their marshlands, they are keeping them healthy and saving billions of dollars by not having to pay for costly infrastructure to store water, clean it or bring it from elsewhere,” says Mark Smith, head of IUCN’s Water Programme.
The IUCN points to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, which sources its water from 60 rivers that originate in Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park. The free water is worth an estimated $1.5 billion dollars.
The capital of Venezuela, Caracas, also relies on rivers in national parks. Guatopo and Macarao National Parks provide the city’s 5 million residents with a constant supply of freshwater.
Improving degraded river systems can also have huge impacts on the availability of freshwater. Better water management in South Africa’s world famous Kruger National Park has improved the availability of water both for humans and animal.
“Kruger’s main five rivers have suffered from pollution and unsustainable water use upstream which led to some of them drying up completely. After implementing a large river-related programme with the agriculture, forestry and mining industries, we have seen an improvement in flows. Previously disappeared species have re-colonised, and fewer unnatural fish kills have occurred,” says Harry Biggs, Programme Integrator at South African National Parks and leader of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas Freshwater Task Force.
Foreseeing a global water crisis, IUCN currently estimates that two-thirds of the world’s population will face water shortages by 2025. One of the best ways to prevent such shortages is protecting existing watersheds and improving water management before a crisis hits.
“Healthy river systems are essential to maintain the livelihoods of local communities. The objectives of sustainable development can only be achieved if nature continues to provide freshwater that everyone needs,” says David Sheppard, Head of IUCN’s Programme on Protected Areas
Watersheds are threatened worldwide urban development, agricultural run-off, deforestation, land-use changes, dams, pollution from mining, invasive species, erosion, drought, and climate change.
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